The best golfers always have a game plan.
Persevering when the plan goes awry, as it often does in golf, separates the best from the rest.
Cameron Champ, Jonny Baxter, Matt Hansen and Eric Taylor are separated by three strokes atop the Memorial Amateur Championship. Each is obviously playing well, but it’s their ability to hang tough when the going gets rough that makes them the players to beat in today’s final round at Ancil Hoffman.
Champ, one of the top-ranked junior players in the nation, shot a 5-under-par 65 Sunday and leads UC Davis seniors Baxter (67) by one shot and Hansen (67) by two. Taylor (71), who left Sacramento State midway through his sophomore season 18 months ago, is tied for fourth with Gunn Yang (70), a San Diego State freshman.
Champ hit his first bump in Saturday’s first round when bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17 turned a good round into an average one. The challenge resumed Sunday when he snap-hooked his opening tee shot on the par-4 10th hole and wound up in the 18th fairway when his second shot hit a tree. Facing a long third shot over trees and stunned looks on the faces of the tournament’s largest gallery eager to see one of the game’s longest hitters, he salvaged a bogey.
Six birdies later, he had the lead.
“From there, I just played solid golf,” said Sacramento’s Champ, 18, who’s headed to Texas A&M in the fall.
Baxter, 23, arrived in Davis from Pleasanton five years ago without a golf scholarship but sold on the school’s academics and confident he could play his way onto the team his freshman year. He didn’t make it that year or his sophomore year, either. He finally earned a spot in his junior year and then earned scholarship money the past two years.
Then, after being an instrumental part of the team for three seasons, he was left off the traveling squad for the postseason earlier this month following a poor tournament showing.
“I wasn’t too happy about it, but I understood,” he said.
A victory today would provide a slice of redemption for Baxter, who will complete work for his degree in mechanical engineering in two weeks.
Hansen, the highest-ranked player in the field and a leaderboard staple in Sacramento’s amateur events for the past four years, was 2 over for the tournament after four holes Sunday. He told younger sister Megan, caddying for him for the first time, that he better start making some putts or he wasn’t going to make the cut. He birdied No. 7, and the San Luis Obispo resident was off to the races.
Megan earned a return call.
“She did a very good job and she has a job (today),” Hansen, 22, said.
Taylor, 21, has been off the competitive golf grid since leaving Sac State after failing to find any chemistry with his coach and teammates. After playing the easier front nine 2 over Sunday, the first-round co-leader rallied on the back nine. Now living in Citrus Heights, he attributed a newfound positive attitude.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to get it back before,” he said.
Nine players are under par after two rounds at Ancil, playing to a par 70 as it does during the annual holiday-weekend tournament. The leading threesome tees off last today at 9:30 a.m.
Call The Bee’s Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.